By Staff

LAWRENCE (CBS) — Teachers at Lawrence High School rallied outside of the school on Monday morning before the start of class, then held a “walk-in” as they entered the building holding signs. They were protesting a sharp rise in student violence there.

The Lawrence Teachers Union said understaffing has “aggravated” what is already a challenging back-to-school season for students.

Two students were arrested last week after a teacher who tried to intervene got hurt. The police chief said about a dozen students have been summonsed to court over the recent violence.

“It’s time to recognize the social emotional needs of our students and invest in staffing and services to meet those needs,” Lawrence Teachers Union president Kimberly Barry told the crowd. “Thanks to a massive infusion of federal COVID relief dollars, the funds are there. Release the funds now. It’s time to respect and support our educators.”

City Councilor Pavel Payano said during the rally that the uptick in violence is “not just an issue that is COVID related.” He added there are “structural issues going on.”

“From every conversation I’ve had, it does not seem (the administration) have an adequate plan put in place,” Payano said. “We have to demand more. We have to demand the state to get involved and to make sure when their parents send their kids to school, they feel like their kids are safe and they’re providing a real excellent education.”

Elected officials have a meeting scheduled for Monday evening to address the recent fighting.

“It does go beyond COVID. It’s about structural changes that are necessary to ensure we provide the best quality education and a safe environment for our students and our educators,” Mayor Kendrys Vasquez said during the rally. “Lawrence deserves better schools for all of its students.”

Lawrence Public Schools released a statement in response to the rally.

As discussed extensively in the Superintendent’s public appearances last week with the Lawrence Alliance for Education and with the Lawrence City Council Public Safety Committee, and as shared in detail with all LHS staff and families this weekend, our school community is working together to take concrete steps – immediate and long-term – to ensure our campus is the place everyone expects and deserves it to be. We know our staff will be essential contributors to this work. It is disappointing to see union leadership promote a more destabilizing course of action, but should at any point they choose to embrace the collaborative role repeatedly offered, we welcome them as partners. 

The district said starting Monday, Lawrence High School is dedicating the first period and advisory periods to engaging students in conversations about school culture and climate.

School officials also said they are adding four School Culture Specialists, adding an additional School Resource Officer, two community policing officers, and adding additional patrols to school neighborhoods in the morning and at dismissal. Staff